This Christmas I was struck by the angel’s words to Joseph, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt … for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’ (Matt 2:13.
How amazing to read these words. After the extensive genealogy pointing to God’s long- term gospel plan, the miraculous conception and birth of the child to be called ‘God with us’; after the wonder of the visit of the Magi in chapters 1 and 2, we then encounter this extraordinary (and miraculous) instruction to run away from danger! Surely God could have miraculously protected the child Jesus by sending a battalion of angels? Or by striking Herod dead? Matthew points to the theme of fulfilment (2:15,17,18), but there is more to it than that.
Surely God could have miraculously protected the child Jesus by sending a battalion of angels? Or by striking Herod dead?
The thing which struck me was the extraordinary combination of real vulnerability and real invincibility. The child Jesus is in real danger. The child Jesus will certainly grow up to die on the cross; and rise from the dead; and receive all authority in heaven and in earth!
Vulnerability and Invincibility
What is true of the baby Jesus is also true of us. As believers, we are both vulnerable, but also, in God’s power, invincible. God knows of what we are made—he remembers that we are but dust—and one day, if Jesus has not returned, God will say to each of us ‘return to dust’ (Ps 103:14; 90:3).
Similarly, we are vulnerable to deception—both because our hearts are deceitful, our sins deceive us; and because Satan is the great deceiver (Jer 17:9; Heb 3:13; Rev 20:7-10). Our flesh, our sinful nature, is always dragging us away from God, and has to be put to death every day: we face a daily conflict between flesh and spirit (Rom 6; Gal 5). Satan is a murderer and ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44). We need to be constantly on guard, watchful, alert (Mark 13:33,35,37).
Yet we are invincible in God’s plan and purpose and by God’s power and grace:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Eph 1:3-8 NIV11)
Our vulnerability and God-given and God-dependant invincibility are brought together most powerfully in Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
Typically, as our lives go on, our vulnerability increases. Yet, as our ‘outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). In the longer term, our future is to be sown perishable, in dishonour, in weakness; but finally to be raised imperishable—in glory, and in power (1 Cor 15:42). As Christians, we are both vulnerable and also invincible; so is the church; and so is Christian ministry.
As Christians, we are both vulnerable and also invincible; so is the church; and so is Christian ministry.
We are unprofitable servants, but Christ will build his church (Luke 17:10; Matt 16:18). God chose the foolish, the weak, the lowly to be members of his church, that we might boast in Christ alone (1 Cor 1:26-31).
Paul describes apostolic ministry as like having treasure in cracked pots (2 Cor 4:7)! And he describes what ministry feels like in the next verses:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (4:8-10).
Churches and ministries that feel weak, vulnerable, under-resourced and under attack need to know that God’s plan is invincible: that Christ will build his church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18 again). And churches and ministries which look strong, powerful and secure need to remember that they are not. If everyone stops praying, stops giving, and begins leaving, the church or ministry will collapse overnight!
But Jesus will build his church, God’s name will be hallowed, God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will and plan will be done on earth as in heaven.
God’s invincibility works through human vulnerability. Don’t pretend that you are not vulnerable: and don’t forget that God’s plan for his people through his Son is invincible!!! Don’t pretend that your ministry, your church is not vulnerable. But don’t forget that Jesus conquered, and made this promise to the church at Laodicea, of all places: ‘The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne [!], as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne [!]’ (Rev 3:21). And we will conquer, ‘by the blood of the Lamb’ and by the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives ‘even unto death’ (Rev 12:11).
It is not right to feel or act as if we are invincible, and there is no requirement to do so. Thinking and feeling this way is not faith: it is folly.
It is right for us to feel vulnerable. It is right for us to trust in God’s invincibility.
Christ was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. We are weak in him, but in (our ministry) we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Cor 13:4)